Pacific Far East Lines’ Pacific Bear

After World War II, PFEL purchased a number of the low-cost surplus ships, all of which were given names ending with the word “Bear.” 

The line operated a regular scheduled service in the transpacific trades linking San Francisco and Los Angeles with ports in the Far East including Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, Busan, Hong Kong, Kaohsiung,  and Manila. During the Vietnam War, PFEL also carried military cargoes under government charter,  

In the late 1960s, the concept of specially-built barge carrying ships came into vogue with the line ordering four so-called C8-S-81b-type LASH (Lighter Aboard SHip) vessels from the Avondale shipyard in Louisiana – Golden Bear, Pacific Bear, Japan Bear, China Bear and Thomas E. Cuffe, named for PFEL’s founder. The ships were delivered in 1971 and 1972 at a cost of $21.3 million each.

The LASH system was developed as a response to the need to transport cargo to and from inland river and shallow water ports. 

However, in 1977, the continuing preeminence of containerization and the cost of operating the LASH ships caused PFEL to file an application for a construction-differential subsidy (CDS) to finance the conversion of the four ships into full container carriers. 

The Pacific Bear was the first of the four LASH vessels to undergo a two-month conversion at the Bethlehem shipyard in San Francisco at a cost of $5 million each. When completed, each of the 249-foot, 30,000 dwt. ships had a capacity of 1,068 TEUs. 

According to a PFEL press release, “When she returns to transpacific service, her cargo capacity will have been increased 40 percent as a result of the uniform stacking advantages provided by containerization over barge operations.” 

The conversion, however, proved to be too little, too late as Pacific Far East Line had failed to upgrade its fleet sufficiently to compete with the U.S. and foreign-flag carriers that had invested heavily in expanding their own container operations. 

Just a year after the four LASH ships were converted, PFEL declared bankruptcy and ceased operations after 33 years of service. 

Pacific Bear was first sold to United States Lines, which chartered the ship to American President Lines in 1986. 

Renamed President Harrison, the ship sailed on for APL for ten years before being scrapped.